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Israel: White House Summit Boosts Peace Process

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A day after Israeli and American leaders met at the White House, Israel is expressing optimism about the Middle East peace process.  The Palestinians, however, are not as enthusiastic.

Israel is hailing as a success Tuesday's White House summit between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.  After more than a year of strained relations over Israeli settlement expansion, both leaders went out of their way to stress that bilateral ties are back on track.

Mr. Obama supported Israel's demand to move to direct peace talks with the Palestinians after two months of indirect negotiations.  Israeli President Shimon Peres says that is an important step in the right direction.  Mr. Peres said that after a long period of stagnation, the peace process is getting a boost.

Israel believes that direct talks are the only way to resolve the thorniest issues of the conflict, such as the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the final borders of a Palestinian state.

Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, though, says direct talks would be premature because of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"The direct negotiation is in the hand of Prime Minister Netanyahu," said Erekat.  "It's up to him.  He has the choice.  If Israel will stop settlement activities, we will have it; we will have direct negotiations."

The Palestinians say Israel's partial freeze on settlement construction is not enough. The 10-month freeze is due to end in September, and Mr. Netanyahu is under pressure from hawkish coalition partners not to renew it.

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